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NGHS long-term care residents start receiving second dose of COVID vaccine
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Northeast Georgia Health System holds their first COVID-19 vaccine clinic Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, NGHS Corporate Plaza for those 65 and older. - photo by Scott Rogers

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Many of Northeast Georgia Health System’s long-term care residents started receiving their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Jan. 26, a step that officials believe may lead to a return to normalcy at these facilities.

NGHS director of long-term care Kerry Smith said 79% of residents have received a first vaccination, and the greater majority of them will receive their second dose starting this week.

NGHS reported 281 confirmed COVID-19 positive patients being treated at its facilities Tuesday, Jan. 26, with another 58 patients awaiting test results. From Jan. 5 to Friday, Jan. 22, the health system has had at least 300 confirmed positive patients in their care.

About half of the residents at New Horizons Limestone tested positive Dec. 11, 41 of the 83 residents in its census. 

Nearly six weeks later, there are eight COVID-19 positive patients at New Horizons Limestone, seeing no more than 10 positive patients in 2021, according to NGHS data.

Staff and residents at NGHS long-term care facilities started receiving the vaccine before the end of December.

Caregivers and patients at The Oaks at Limestone were some of the first in the nursing home and long-term care sector to receive a vaccine Dec. 28. The second clinic was held Jan. 18.

“Our staff is excited to have the privilege to receive the vaccine and considers this a big step in putting COVID-19 behind us,” said The Oaks at Limestone administrator Kristin Markley.

Though long-term care residents are set to receive their second dose soon, there is still more work to be done before in-person visitation can resume.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a guidance in September for indoor visitation.

Those guidelines included that visitation may occur where there has been no “new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days, and the facility is not currently conducting outbreak testing.” Also, the county positivity rate would need to be lower than 10%.

NGHS’ seven-day rolling average of positive tests was 21.81% Monday.

“My hope is that through our residents and staff being vaccinated, the community starting to get vaccinated, that our numbers will be better in the facility (and) also be better in the county,” Smith said.

With the administration of second doses, Smith said they are really hoping to see the return of communal dining, small and large group activities and socialization.

“The facility prior to COVID was always full of visitors, friends (and) family,” Smith said. “Since COVID, there has not been that, and it’s definitely been missed.”

Though there is still an activities department interacting with residents on a one-one-basis and video conferencing with loved ones, Smith said the socialization “is an important part of all of our lives and definitely is missed when we can’t do that.”

Smith said there have been more staff opting out from the vaccine than residents, as 36% of long-term care staff have received their first doses.

“Sometimes it’s the fear of the unknown of a new vaccine,” Smith said. “Some of the staff have different personal medical conditions that they want to speak with their physician about before taking the vaccine to make sure it’s going to be safe for them.”

Some of those who were uncertain, Smith said, have since signed up after watching other staff members and residents receive the vaccine.